In celebration of African music in general and Nigerian music in particular, I bring to you a review of Mercy Chinwo’s Debut Album, that has heavy elements of highlife music. Originally created in Africa’s Gold Coast: Ghana, Highlife music has come the Nigerian way, with different manifestations in Yoruba, and Igbo. Mercy’s album transcends merely the Nigerian Efik, Igbo and Yoruba inflections. In Mercy’s highlife tracks: Bor Ekom, Regular, Imenem, Correct, I am and Inhedinma are found jazzy horns and an even jazzier baseline and lead guitars, sonorous accapella infusions, a flavour of calypso and congas that echo unto forever. Elements of South African vocalising by way of scating make Mercy’s expression of highlife even more unique and special.
I love the fact that this album helps me worship. I come boldly to God’s throne of grace and I obtain this mercy literally and in a lot of songs. Mercy in this case means wisdom, favour, ease and enablement. The songs, interlocked with God breathed tongues are filled with hard thumping scripture, where you just find yourself acceding to them, like you already knew where she was going. It is magnificent. There’s really nothing better than the word of God, honestly. This album is not just a celebration of God in his myriad of colours of mercy, grace, pleasantness, power, and the sheer awesomeness of worship, it is a celebration of awesome highlife music.
FAVOURITE TRACKS AND VOCALISATION
I am literally vacillating over picking my favourite tracks. My musical ears and mind keep re-exploring the pieces, leaving me with many favourite lines, vocalisings, growls and so forth. Mercy’s voice goes soft, deep, high and raspy. Her voice is robust, exploring all manner of heights and depths of intensity and dynamics.
This is a beautiful highlife masterpiece, with a stamp of Mercy’s magnificent growl reciting adlibs in the chromatic. Mercy does scata on this track in frequent successions, with a recurrent Zulu drawl. This rendition is a fine mix of highlife, South African and Jazz influences.
The candour of this track is stark. Our responsibility is to love on God in worship and to tell the world about him. I love the way Mercy coils her the phrasing at ‘You never change… you won’t start now’, and the intensity with which she sings the line ‘How excellent is your name’. This track is the perfect recipe for new levels of worship and an instant connection with God. It makes heaven more real.
I love the harmonies to the lines ‘You’re seated in heaven, you made the earth your footstool, incredible God’. This song gives me a Kirk Franklin vibe, and I love the jazzy notes from the bass.
With a more modern rhythm and blues influence, Mercy sings about the spiritual principles of open doors, confessions and receiving from God.
This track is the eternal love song of God to us, using Mercy Chinwo. His love is kind and patient. In this ballad, I remain drenched in the perfect love of God with no guile. Mercy’s hearty growl makes me rethink and reponder over why God chose to make his place in man. You would definitely have this track on replay for many weeks. There was a curious thing though. I thought I heard ‘Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani’, whose meaning is actually not in apposition to the words of this song.
I have a soft spot for this soulful acoustic ballad. I love the organesque feels in the 2nd verse as she says ‘Onye dim so’ repeatedly. The zulu accappella feel at the end of this piece is simply divine. I love the way Mercy explores depths in her vocals on this track, juxtaposing it with how she cannot imagine living life without God. And really, no one can guess the depths of our relationship with God and how it results in explicable blessings, favour and positioning. We don’t know how he does it.
WITH ALL MY HEART
Mercy’s vocals go pianisimo on this, slathered in violins and sonorous back ups, with super clear harmonies. ‘With all my heart’ is super akin to those notes in Cill’s ‘Sweet Perfume’ when she says ‘Beyond compare’. The notes are so incredibly sweet, they put the sweet in ‘Sweet Perfume’. I love the line ‘I can see the river flow’ along with pizzicato and violins. Worship is truly a river. I don’t even wanna get started on all my ‘river’ scriptures…Lol. Worship is the river that makes glad the city of God. Lol. I’ll stop now. I love the strong ‘loving on God’ theme, and its vulnerability. God’s presence flows on this song like vanilla ice cream, literally.
Mercy starts raspy against the piano playing softly on this ballad fit for a musical. She then becomes soft, along with the backups and the slightly soft digital trumpet. Her voice becomes a tad animated as the digital instrumentation does a pizzicato number. It is almost like a whole orchestra comes in at ‘Oh, what a father I have in you’, immediately giving me the imagery of the whole of Heaven’s Armies coming to your rescue when you choose God over anyone else. I love how she spontaneously recites God’s lovely names in Igbo, as the proud badges He owns, especially ‘Onyekwaranta’ and ‘Ekwueme’. This is the most classical piece on this album, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the juxtaposition of igbo and classical music.
Now this ‘Regular’ track is proper high life, as well as calypso-eque, with its throbbing percussion and repetitive melodic syllables. The way Chinwo draws certain words like ‘story’ makes this jam have a more staying power in my mind.
The intro to ‘Iminem’ reminds me of Kenny Kore’s ‘Hallelujah’ ever so slightly, but it is also highlife. This song is such a proper African track, it reminds me of the soundtrack to the 90s Nigeria comedy ‘The New Masquerade’, especially with the parallel harmonies of the backups. I love the digital trumpets and the way Mercy repeats ‘Oma’ and a couple of other phrase is in quintessential highlife style. Mercy is really an old soul, lol.
This track is more modern, more calypso than highlife. In a call and response fashion, loaded with creoles and pidgins, ‘Correct’ is an easy paddle; almost like an easy sermon that teaches quite a lot. God is really the only connection one needs in life. Heis our only source. The digital instrumentation and percussion are definitely popping on this track.
I love Mercy’s leadership of her tracks, and it shows in the way she does her lead and backups. I love the feature of the ogene on this track. Her hailing of God is very urban, utilising seemingly mainstream slang and inflections. It is hearty and happy but at the same time thick with spirit and meaning.
This song is mostly about the instrumentation for me. Mercy utters a few call and response words, which carry the same spirit as the previous tracks.
I love how this album is not only a spiritual offering but is diverse in terms of genres and a part of the Nigerian mainstream music narrative. I totally love that because we can look back in years to come and call this album a landmark as regards where Nigerian music was, which is a pretty awesome place, bt-dubs.